The world in formulas
Marek Šebo has admired technology and inventions since he was a child. In 2016, he translated these interests into a startup called Cognexa, which helps companies improve processes and products using artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
Over the course of six years, the company has worked for global corporations such as Merck, Orange and Erste Group, as well as homegrown hi-tech companies such as Innovatrics.
How did you get into artificial intelligence?
I studied at the Bratislava “matfyz” department, where we dealt with statistics and modelling, which are the pillars of artificial intelligence.
Gradually, together with the co-founder of our company, Andrej Kozák, we went to seminars and conferences on this topic both at home and abroad, we contacted teams that were working on applications such as image processing through AI and so on.
So I got the basics at school, and I got the basics thanks to my personal interest.
What attracted you to AI?
Overall, I love technology, invention, innovation, I love the story of Nikola Tesla, the inventor. Since high school I liked to model and simplify the world into formulas, I was fascinated that things could be predicted this way.
At university I perceived that amazing new things were happening in the field of artificial intelligence, technology was rapidly opening new and new doors, so here I could participate in things that were moving the world.
Why did you start the company?
There was a buzz around AI, even people from companies in the region were looking around to see who knew something about AI. My perception was that we could help them in this direction.
It turned out to be a good choice, because even in the early days of our company, we were quickly getting into meetings with high-ranking executives and talking about major projects, even though we were otherwise quite junior.
How does it currently look in Slovakia among companies with demand for AI solutions?
Insurance companies, banks and other financial institutions have a strong relationship with data, so we see them trying to implement proven AI models very quickly. The same is true for telecom firms.
The industry is just waking up, they have a lot of words about AI in presentations, but in practice they are implementing AI solutions very slowly and cautiously.
The development and popularity has been greatly helped by making mature models like ChatGPT or Midjourney available to the public. We see it in meetings that people from companies are independently studying the topic and are up to date, many managers are pronounced “hyped”.
Do companies want a bespoke solution or existing models already used by competitors?
In every industry, there are already some examples of successful AI application that could be described as low-hanging fruit. Marketers are able to use models that predict customer behavior, such as product purchases or subscription cancellations.
Google, for example, offers across-the-board analytics tools to optimize marketing operations. Fortunately, the prevailing attitude even among Slovak companies is that AI is a tool, a hammer, and not a universal solution, so I first need a problem to be able to use it.
Bottom-up tendencies are also emerging, with IT teams pushing management to allocate spend to AI and allow them to experiment. They are trying to create and find their own concepts for the benefit of the company.
Artificial intelligence has been a topic for five to six years in the country, so many companies have been burned. We meet managers who have tried it, failed for various reasons, and now have a dismissive attitude.
The biggest motivator is often just catching up with the competition by adopting AI systems that rivals already have. Today, it is clear that the adoption of AI is not some fad, but an irreversible trend. Larger companies simply can no longer be competitive without leveraging AI.
In your experience, what drives managers to reach for AI as a solution for the business?
Three factors are driving AI adoption today. The first is its success. People are seeing success stories, and it’s clear that AI will gradually be applied to companies much like electrification once took place.
Even an industry as conservative as medicine has already gone through the necessary processes by regulators in certifying the first wave of medical instruments.
They are using AI to process visual data and diagnose patients, for example. They are used in radiology or pathology, and doctors know that these are approved, functional and safe tools that they can use.
The second factor is the close intertwining of AI with data. Data analytics is key to management decision-making in every major company today, which is why upskilling data analysts has been going on in companies for a long time.
The data analyst is now required to know how to code and use much more automation to work with data. Companies are building data science teams that can use AI.
And thirdly, companies are being pushed forward by vendors who are presenting them with new ways to use AI. That’s what we’re doing as well.
We sit down with a client for two or three workshops, look at the company’s business and look for potential uses and benefits of AI. I would say that AI applications in companies are increasing at a comforting rate.
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full interview in Slovak here